Several new voices emerged Monday night in an ongoing debate over whether the county should merge the boards that oversee tourism and the county museums.
Dozens of business leaders joined museum supporters in urging the York County Council not to rush ahead with the plan, which would bring employees of the county's Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Culture and Heritage Museums under county control and dissolve the boards that run them.
Their message was unified: the merger, done hastily, could harm the organizations and the community at large.
More than 50 people helped fill council chambers, pushing through the doorway into the hall. Many, wearing red in solidarity, applauded the speakers while they addressed the council.
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In a letter presented to the council, the Partners in Tourism - a group of hotels, restaurants, shops and service-oriented businesses in York County - said the merger would harm the local tourism industry.
Any harm that comes to the Convention and Visitors Bureau, which promotes area tourism, could "trickle down" to the businesses the CVB supports, said Robert Davis, general manager of the Comfort Inn at Interstate 77 and Carowinds Boulevard.
A change could mean fewer tourism dollars working for local businesses, Davis said.
It also could threaten the marketability of businesses in York County, including the Culture and Heritage Museums, said Ed Kelly, chairman of the Olde English District Commission, which promotes tourism for seven counties in South Carolina, including York.
Museum leaders made their case to the council, arguing that the merger could harm programming and impede fundraising.
"I'm afraid people are not going to want to donate as freely to an organization governed by a taxing entity," said CHM commissioner Jim McGill.
Right now, the Culture and Heritage Museums raise about 33 percent of their funding, getting the remainder from the county, said CHM commission chairman Jim Johnston.
Before the recession, the county supplied only 60 percent of the CHM's budget, Johnston said. The county's plan would prevent the organization for getting back to that level of independence, he said.
Uncertainty moving forward
Nearly missing from the exchange was evidence of how the merger would impact the organizations.
"Obviously, we don't really know" the merger's impact, Kelly said. "There's good cause to say we could get efficiency out of this and a more unified vision," but if poorly carried out, the merger could be detrimental, he said.
Bennish Brown, executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, said his board is still looking into the impact of the merger.
The council's push to create a new board overseeing its parks, recreation and tourism has also raised some animosity toward council members.
The council is pursuing the changes to better manage the county's resources, county officials say, but the plan follows complaints from some council members and museum commissioners about management of the Culture and Heritage Museums.
Museum leaders have spoken out against those complaints. At Monday night's meeting, Johnston said they stemmed from "disgruntled former employees," a small group of volunteers and Councilman Joe Cox's criticism of museum salaries and leadership - points that Cox reiterated during the meeting.
Council chairman Buddy Motz assured Johnston that the council's intentions are "to help make a better system of government. It's not for any animosity toward any employee," Motz said.
On Dec. 6, the County Council will hold the first of two public hearings on the proposed changes. The meeting will be held in council chambers in York at 6 p.m.